I'm always on the lookout for fantasy or science fiction written in Dutch. Although there seems no shortage of readers, there is a steady stream of translations from mainly English language books, not much fantasy or science fiction in written Dutch is actually published. In recent years W. J. Maryson has been one of the most eye-catching author on the scene, some of his works appeared in German translation but as far as I know not in English. I gave one of his books a go but couldn't really get into it. Maybe I should try again some time, my girlfriend seems to like them a lot. Thomas Oldeheuvelt burst on the scene in 2008 with the publication of Leerling Tovenaar Vader & Zoon, which is marketed as fantasy but could be described as horror as well. There are number of other authors of course but their number is relatively small and they are often published by small publishers. Rarely do you find them on the shelf in a book store.
In 2007 I came across a book named Profeet van de Duivel (literally: The Devil's Prophet) by Ad van Tiggelen. A book published by Uitgeverij Gopher, which although they don't explicitly say so on their website, looks like an on demand publisher to me. It was not award winning material but it was imaginative, written in straightforward and correct Dutch and held up rather well structurally. In short, this author showed promise. Apparently one of the two large publishers of speculative fiction in the Netherlands, Luitingh Fantasy, thought so too. They reissued the book under an English pseudonym Adrian Stone (I'm not sure if this involved any rewriting), added some very nice new cover art by Jesse van Dijk and scheduled two sequels. Zoon van de Duivel (literally: The Devil's Son) is the first of these two sequels.
In the first book we meet the main character Marak, descendant of Catharis a man who has ascended to godhood. His rather dark cult, mostly interested in worldly power, is forming a large threat to the stability of the Kingdom of Carolia and the three gods that are traditionally worshipped there. Marak's heritage and magical abilities make him valuable to the cult but he denies them and joins the order of Ava, the god representing balance, instead. The cult of Catharis tries to get their hands on him anyway but after a hectic adventure Marak and his companions manage to capture the cult's leader Zabatha and imprison him. His cult is far from destroyed however and when their leader escapes, Marak knows a new confrontation is inevitable.
The position of the cult's main stronghold is unassailable however, and Carolia is not in a position to launch a major offensive anyway. Dynastic struggles and religions tension, fermented by the cult of Catharis, paralyse the nation. But the threat is even greater than that. Marak's own sister Melissa has helped Zabatha escape and he has gotten her with child. A child of two of the most magically gifted people in Carolia as well as a direct descendant of Catharis. The cult may yet get what they failed to capture when Marak slipped away.
I must say there is quite a bit of improvement when compared with (the gopher version of) Profeet van de Duivel. The flow of the story has obviously benefited from more careful editing, the story seems to flow more fluently from one character or scene to the next. There is one small editing mistake in the book that I found rather jarring. The occasional references to genes. Zoon van de Duivel is set in a typical fantasy setting with a technology level that is roughly comparably to the renaissance period. Genetics in the modern sense of the world did not come about until the 1860s with the research of Gregor Mendel and the word gene not until the early 20th century. It would probably have been better to speak in terms of blood or blood lines instead of using such a modern concept. It's a minor thing, nitpicking really, but the term did seem very much out of place.
Stone has paid a lot of attention to the religious aspect of the book. A lot of his characters are tied to one of the four gods mentioned in the book and religious strife is a major plot element. There are also a number of hints in the book that none of the four represent the complete truth. By comparison the rest of the world is less developed. We know next to nothing about the world outside the nation of Carolia for instance, so the book petty much deals with one culture. Quite a bit left to explore should the author choose to write more books in this setting.
Zoon van de Duivel still falls short of a truly epic fantasy novel. With it's limited world building, rather straightforward story and language and a tendency to very clearly explain the motivations of the characters it is not a very challenging read. In fact it might have done well as a YA book if it wasn't for a number of adult themes in the book. The author does not shy away from violent scenes or themes such as rape and prostitution. That being said, Stone delivers an exciting and fast moving tale, the book builds up to a dramatic climax very well. While it is clear there is more of the story still to come, Stone has managed to avoid the middle book pitfall. With a strong own story arc in this book he doesn't leave you hanging.
All in all I thought it a great improvement over Profeet van de Duivel. His third novel, Ziel van de Duivel (literally: The Devil's Soul) is expected in February 2010. I'm certainly going to check that one out, Stone is an author to keep an eye on.
Title: Zoon van de Duivel
Author: Adrian Stone
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
First published: 2009